Rejecting The Bullies

I know there’s an usually unwritten rule about commenting on commenting in the digital realm. I am sure it borders on some amorphous definition of meta, a word that I think is actually supposed to be a suffix and that I am definitely sure lacks a cohesive definition, but I’ve never been much for rules or ceremony. So, I’ll be blunt. The vast majority of comments on the internet are useless at best and destructive at worst.

I think this is similar to what internet pariah of the month, Denis Dyack, meant when he said internet forums need to be changed. Like many of you, I reacted initially to his comments with the knee-jerk “Ohhhh, Denis,” but as I’ve let the concept soak in the brine of my dissatisfaction with the vocal population of gamers on the web, I find myself increasingly inclined to agree.

To bemoan the horror of net discourse is certainly nothing particularly new. I have spent any number of hours reading vile and venom aimed at my own words, most often when I have said something unapologetically that runs counter to popularly held views such as: Piracy is bad for PC games; Vanguard isn’t a very good game; I’m looking forward to Fallout 3 and sometimes EA isn’t all bad.

I imagine should this missive break beyond the bonds of our oddly functional community, I will suffer similarly.

The democratization of the web – a term that means very little but sounds patriotic enough to demand respect – has installed an illusion of a digital first amendment that protects speech no matter how poorly spelled or stupid. Never mind that providing a comment section on a private website entitles nobody to a big helping spoonful of nothing, we are operating in a digital society that doesn’t just believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion – a tenet I grudgingly concede – but that they are entitled to express that opinion wherever they see fit.

The result of that is the web as we see it today, where the value of smartly considered discussion is weighted equally with loud and angry voices that offer nothing save new and creative ways to suggest a person self-impregnate. The alpha personalities of the web, cloaked in anonymity and set loose in this unrestrained medium, are a driving force in the lowered level of discourse on the web and, I think, a factor in the sad state of online journalism, dialogue and even product.

I am with Dyack in thinking the reign of the terminally loud and annoying has crossed the threshold from being irritating to being destructive. Whether they represent a minority or majority I can’t say, but they have become the dictators of warped common sense. They drive the discussions within and without the gaming sphere. Across what seems a dangerously wide segment of our culture, it is the hysterical and furious who dictate the tone of our shared discussions.

Odd as this may sound; I think part of the problem is the purity of the mode of online discussion. Understand that when I call the discussion pure, I’m speaking about the undistilled nature of comments. With anonymity, lack of repercussion and most importantly unfettered access to the web, people are free to shed the bounds of common decency, a sick beast itself, and respond in their most basic natures.

This is not a good thing.

I’ve said before that the bounds of our social contracts are the barriers between a functioning society and bashing each others’ heads in with rocks. Having to take responsibility for your words and actions are good things, and destroying those barriers can seem democratic from a broad view, but in practice just unlocks the checks blocking the most aggressive and opens an express lane to chaos.

What I’d really like to see, in many ways, is a system where people are not invisible. But that’s not practical. An alternative would be for more organizations create a more comprehensive and social approach to moderation, but that demands man-hours and resources. If anything, rampant internet malfeasance is a direct result of convenience, and again this seems equally unlikely.

So, the solution seems to be to reduce the accessibility of feedback. Interactivity does not necessarily need to be the holy grail of online reporting. Oftentimes, feedback seems out of place, and can swiftly become a distraction or even a detriment to the hosting organization. Do we really need to open the floor to every clown with an agenda to inject his or her venom? Does every place on the web necessarily need to follow up content with open mic night at the Tourettes Palace?

Why do we allow the sense of entitlement to persist that it is perfectly ok for any malcontent with an opinion and functioning fingers to walk into our online house and start hurling dirt on the walls? It seems counter intuitive to me, even self-destructive to be the vehicle for your own criticism, particularly criticisms that is misinformed, angry, motivated by alternative agendas and barely literate.

I don’t really need to know what Skizzbucket221 thinks about the issues of the day. It doesn’t make the web any less democratic. Shutting down Skizzy’s vitriol in our house doesn’t curtail his freedom to fire up his own blog. But, it does take away his visibility in a place like Joystiq, Slashdot or CNN, and forces him to build up a following on his own, which is where the real democracy is at.

Comments

Shoal07 wrote:
tatterdemaliot wrote:
bnpederson wrote:

"The walls will hold. They always have."

This was stellar, captain, absolutely stellar.

Agreed. Is that from your brain? I mean, not stolen from somewhere? We have some really creative hombres and mujers on this board. I still am impressed by the occasional nuggets of writing goodness served up by the goodjer group.

They came from my head meat, as far as I'm aware. It actually was what I thought of skimming this thread.

Elysium wrote:

That NY Times article is stunning.

While I loved bnpederson's post, it's flawed.

Those walls will never hold if pushed.

True, but the unruly mob will be distracted by pictures of cats with pithy phrases or some guy singing with an improbably low voice before it gets to that point.

FeddEx wrote:

Er, I don't follow..?

Sorry, not what you said. I was referring to the molestation allegations.

"Lulz, I cried rape and the NY Times ran with it. Ho ho ho, what a burn."

That kind of nosensical lying. Along the lines of "you have green hair!". Ya dig?

ahhh check, gotcha. Sorry
True that.. No way to check, really, aside from the journalist doing the digging himself...

As always, the biggest problem with public places is that's where the public hangs out.

GWJ is a surprisingly consistent bastion of what appears to be actual thinking. Whether intentional or not, the general atmosphere, especially around the main page posts, causes me to stop and consider before I post a response. Plus you get all manner of useful grammar tips.

And now I can sit back in the comfortable anonymity of the Internet and ponder that no one can tell just by reading this post whether or not I'm being sarcastic.

Stupidity in life and the internet demonstrates to me on a consistent basis that true Democracy would never work because people are just too stupid to rule themselves.

I gave the topic half an hour's worth of thought, and in the end, I could only be annoyed that we have made disturbingly little progress from page one of this thread. GWJ is unique in the broader internet landscape, we all readily agreed on that. The rest of the internet is less responsible about its comments, sure. Personally, all I needed was one glance at the rottentomato comments aimed toward Dark Knight's negative reviews to get first hand experience on tyranny of the masses. There are even commentators acknowledging the comment features on RT as a legitimate tool for keeping film reviewers in line.

Yet, what can we do beyond this agreement? Bnpederson sums it up pretty well with his first post. We are a bunch of monocle-wearing British gentlemen isolated in the fortress of solitude, sipping tea, reading books, and generally drowning in and reflecting on our own pool of elitist ways. What really annoyed me is that even if I want to walk away from this conversation with knowledge of a potential solution, I can't think of any. Internet is the way it is, and in order to protect its integrity, elements such as 4chan, youtube, or rottentomato, along with their destructive nature, will just have to be tolerated. What a depressing thought.

kilroy0097 wrote:

Stupidity in life and the internet demonstrates to me on a consistent basis that true Democracy would never work because people are just too stupid to rule themselves.

I think you have missed the point of democracy. Democracy is not about individuals ruling themselves, it is collectives ruling collectives. Individuals ruling themselves is libertarianism.

I do agree that individuals are seldom able to judge what is 'best' for themselves. The world is hardly made up of Dr Spocks able to make rational and informed judgements on a continual basis.

My understanding of Elysium is not that he wishes a change in the content of the internet, but merely the form.

I wonder sometimes if we aren't in the "wild west" era of the internet.

Hopefully we will grow out of this too. I guess the only way we won't is if we stagnate or the rate at which we grow and understand is outpaced by the rate at which the delinquency grows and persists.

It will be hard though because anonymity works both ways. It makes it hard to put a face to both the perpetrator and the victim.

This is a good discussion, and brings to mind this very interesting [if rather long] video I saw:

An anthropological introduction to YouTube

It's about YouTube, and society and stuff. I highly recommend it, the on-topic part is when he covers commenting and response videos. But I think it's all relevant to the wider discussion of 'what the hell does this internet thing mean anyway?'

Wow. That NYT article scared the bejezus out of me. These "people" actually live among us?

Sorry haven't read any other comments. Just commenting on the article.

The choices are to hold people responsible for their words/actions, or to keep their identity anonymous to reinforce the "purity" of comments.
The responsibility that needs to happen does require people to moderate it. On any forums, it's up to the moderators to filter out the unnecessary and in some cases promote those with valid opinions. The bullies not only make their opinion known, but visciously attack anyone that differs. So what if they get banned. They'll find a way around it. They're happy to abuse the system. What kind of responsibility would make them stop? Money? Jail? Hardly fitting punishments for being an internet a-hole.

The wild west analogy just doesn't hold water anymore - it's too late in the game. In the early days, the net was actually strikingly civil. Early usenet groups were notorious flame-war-land not because flame wars were so prevalent, but because they were so unique. The whole Derek Smart mythology is based on surprisingly civil discourse, by a handful (perhaps less than 40) actual participants in the conversations.

OMG STFU n00b.

wordsmythe wrote:

OMG STFU n00b.

Whoa, watch the irony there, Wordy. That's strong enough to create a black hole.

First this article and the NYT story, now I find that there are two articles that touch on the same topic in a recent Time Magazine (July 21st): an interview with 4chan's moot and an editorial on comment and forum etiquette.
Something seems to have caught the interest of the hivemind.

I defended Dyack a while back in the derailing Too Human thread (I believe it was that thread) and I stand by it still. Question the man's skill at making games or managing a company or whatever you will. Question his PR skills, fine. But I think he had a valid (if not entirely cogent) point about how we're way overdue for a reckoning on how people treat each other online and the lack of accountability for virtually everything.

Great read.

I'm new here, so I will attempt (poorly) to be somewhat brief.

I agree wholeheartedly that the crassest voices are lowering the bar for discourse on the Internet. With regards to web journalism, this is most especially true.

But when it comes to forums and other discussion-oriented sites such as blogs, perhaps there is a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater. When I look at the Denis Dyack / NeoGAF affair, what I see is somebody who is upset that he cannot control the debate about his game.

Sure, the people at GAF are rude and unpoliced. If I gamed with them, most would reside on my ignore list. I might not want them to comment on my blog either. This is one individual forum though. And obviously, there are many young kids posting there.

You can't go into an obnoxious bar filled with underage drinkers and then complain about bars in general. Especially when there are several other, quieter bars down the block.

NeoGAF does not appear to suit game developers who are looking to connect with fans, but that is NeoGAF's problem alone. This is also true of any forum, site or blog that wants to be taken seriously as a news or discussion destination, but cannot control the riffraff.

Mr. Dyack will now look elsewhere, and I'd imagine he will find what he needs. In the meantime, he should take things somewhat less seriously.

I see the sum total of net discourse as being somewhat like the galaxy in Eve: Online. Stick to the edges, and stay relatively safe. Go into the middle, and it may not be that way. Each solar system in the galaxy will have its own rules for what is acceptable. Those rules will be dependent on what the moderators (and the community / customers) want. This is, in my opinion, in keeping with the spirit of what makes the Internet interesting and vibrant.

Please note again that I am not referring to web journalism here. I am, however, referring to the fact that I can go to Amazon and read thousands of very useful product reviews, or to hundreds of terrific and well-moderated web forums and blogs covering all of my hobbies and interests.

In fact, so many examples come to mind that you might say they are the reason for this post. Dyack's 'solution' is not needed en masse. It is needed sporadically, and that has to be an individual call.

I'm a little squeamish about writing something so vehemently contradictory in my initial foray here, but you guys appear to foster honest discussion. And that is working on me. Please do consider it a compliment.

I suppose this was not very brief after all.

Krib wrote:

I suppose this was not very brief after all.

Don't worry about that. At GWJ, there's plenty of prolixity to go around.

It's true, though. It's everywhere. Salon.com letters is awful. Huffingtonpost is a freaking rage-athon. And yeah, even my local paper.

I think the worst of net behavior right now can be found on your local newspaper's forums. It's like they attracted every old WebTV user into their home. The KC Star makes it even worse, with comments on every article.

If you want to see utter ridiculousness, you should see the comments after every Kansas or Missouri article in the sports section. It would seem that we have not evolved much from the days when we were Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers, burning and pillaging each other. Of course, the answer os to not even read the things. There is no reason for me to dispute anything a Tiger fan says on their, because the entire line of discussion is always vile.

Sadly, as much as I enjoy the Escapist, their comments section is just as bad. It's the number one feature I would drop from web magazines. Keep the forums, but lose the comments that are going to annoy your target audience. In this form, it begs for comments without much thought. My apologies to Malcom Gladwell, but I don't think this provides nearly the kind of commentary the web magazines are hoping for.

wordsmythe wrote:

Don't worry about that. At GWJ, there's plenty of prolixity to go around. :)

Not from me. I got a shot, cleared that right up.

Quintin_Stone wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

Don't worry about that. At GWJ, there's plenty of prolixity to go around. :)

Not from me. I got a shot, cleared that right up.

Headshot?

Quintin_Stone wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

Don't worry about that. At GWJ, there's plenty of prolixity to go around. :)

Not from me. I got a shot, cleared that right up.

Prolixity isn't an easily cured STD.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

Prolixity isn't an easily cured STD.

Neither is your mom.

Spaz wrote:

Neither is your mom.

I'm glad we managed to get here with this thread. It took 5 pages and a lot of hard work but we finally managed it. Congratulations guys and gals, it was a team effort but everyone pulled together and we have something truly special. Cherish the moment people, savor it.

AmazingZoidberg wrote:
Spaz wrote:

Neither is your mom.

I'm glad we managed to get here with this thread. It took 5 pages and a lot of hard work but we finally managed it. Congratulations guys and gals, it was a team effort but everyone pulled together and we have something truly special. Cherish the moment people, savor it.

So long as we're typing grammatically correct responses to previous posts, I think we're still far ahead of most comment sections.

I actually find the prolixity (of your mom) to be a bit of a turn off since I'm not very good at writing extensively long posts or snappy short ones - you might in fact say that I'm not very good at writing at all - but to fit with the crowd as my social sensibilities dictate I have to sit down and make an effort to craft an eloquent argument about something I don't actually care enough for to write about and as you can see, it has become a run-on sentence.

I actually find the prolixity (of your mom) to be a bit of a turn off. I'm not very good at writing extensively long posts or snappy short ones - you might in fact say that I'm not very good at writing at all. Yet to fit with the crowd, as my social sensibilities dictate, I have to sit down and make an effort to craft an eloquent argument about something I don't actually care for.

Since someone bumped this thread, thus allowing me to read it for the first time, I'm inclined to simply add:

Great article, Mr. Sands. I agree with your sentiments. The best you can do, it seems, is what you gentlemen are doing. Find a group of intelligent, like minded individuals and hang on for dear life.

Lucan wrote:

I'm not very good at writing extensively long posts or snappy short ones - you might in fact say that I'm not very good at writing at all.

Not a problem. Just PM me your copy before posting, and I'll edit it for you. I'll set my rate at half a cent (US) per word.